Review: The Dawnhounds by Sascha Stronach (Against the Quiet #1)

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ARC received from the publisher (Gallery/Saga Press) in exchange for an honest review.

I have had this book on my TBR for a few years, but when I heard the rerelease is even weirder and queerer and more indigenous, it shot up my TBR. And I’m very grateful I got the opportunity to read it, because Biopunk/New Weird in the vein of Vandermeer with mushrooms and queer pirates and some noir vibes early on is exactly up my alley. And it was a shockingly fast and easy read, too – I finished it in two sittings.

Yat is a cop, recently demoted for having been caught at a gay bar. She’s also a drug addict living paycheck to paycheck and one night, while stumbling home high, she happens upon a corpse – and is immediately shot in the head by two officers herself. Except she doesn’t stay dead. And develops strange magic. And falls in with a crew of pirates. And many other things that I do not want to spoil.

The main star of this book is definitely the worldbuilding. Something happened and now metal is taboo and biological technology reigns. Houses are grown from mushrooms, people can have lost limbs regrown, though there are also more terrifying applications of alchemy, like guns that shoot grubs that burrow under your skin or criminals being turned into mindless slaves. There’s also political turmoil with homophobic conservatives in power and a cult of bird priests (derogatorily called bin chickens because of the ibis masks – the one New Zealand/Australian reference I did get) making trouble. It’s not a very pleasant world, but it’s a very interesting one. Though the tone never gets too dark or oppressive.

I also liked that the issue of the MC being a cop is very much addressed – the systemic flaws, people being blanked en masse because places need slave workforce, there being no good cops in the end, etc. Yat may have good intentions, but we all know what the road to hell is paved with.

If there is a fault, it’s that the book has a little too much going on and tries to do too much at the same time, so some things get a little lost. It’s far from a fatal flaw and doesn’t really bog it down, but I did wish at points it’d jump from place to place and subplot to subplot a little less rapidly, give some time to breathe and for the full weight of things to set in.

But either way, it’s a book I recommend most highly and I can’t wait for the sequel.

Enjoyment: 4.5/5
Execution: 4/5

Recommended to: fans of Vandermeer and Mieville or books with biotech or just weird books in general, those looking for Māori-inspired and very queer SFF (the MC is bi, several side characters are various kinds of queer), if you like pirate found families, those looking for a quick read
Not recommended to: anyone sensitive to body horror

Content warnings: body horror, epidemic, homophobia (external and some internalised, including slurs)

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